Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.
Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station.
When celebrated baseball statistician and true crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern. Applying the same know-how he brings to his legendary baseball analysis, he empirically determined which crimes were committed by the same person. Then after sifting through thousands of local newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he and his daughter Rachel made an astonishing discovery: they learned the true identity of this monstrous criminal. In turn, they uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America.
Riveting and immersive, with writing as sharp as the cold side of an axe, The Man from the Train paints a vivid, psychologically perceptive portrait of America at the dawn of the twentieth century, when crime was regarded as a local problem, and opportunistic private detectives exploited a dysfunctional judicial system. James shows how these cultural factors enabled such an unspeakable series of crimes to occur, and his groundbreaking approach to true crime will convince skeptics, amaze aficionados, and change the way we view criminal history.
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Rachel McCarthy James lives in Lawrence, KS with her husband Jason. She studied creative writing at Hollins University, and her work has previously been featured in publications including Bitch, Broadly, and The New Inquiry. The Man from the Train is her first book.
Read an Excerpt
The Man from the Train
I have long been fascinated by the notion that knowledge can be created about the past. Dinosaurs are the easiest example. For tens of thousands of years, humans had no awareness that the world had once been inhabited by gigantic beasts. Now, we know not merely that these animals existed, but we have identified hundreds of species of them. We know what they looked like, generally, and what they ate. We know which type of dinosaur lived where, and in what era. We know what happened to them. We have not merely created this knowledge, we have disseminated it so widely across our culture that the average five-year-old now can name a dozen types of dinosaurs, and has a collection of little plastic models of them.
In my day job I am a baseball writer. We know many, many things now about the baseball players of the 1950s and 1960s, about Willie Mays and Bob Gibson and Stan Musial, that those men themselves did not know and could not possibly have known when they were playing. We have pieced together records of their careers that are far more complete than the records which were kept at the time. Modern historians know things about the Romans that the Romans themselves did not know and could not have known.
A hundred years ago and a little more, there were a series of terrible crimes that took place in the American Midwest (although it actually started in the Northeast and the South, the midwestern portion of the series is the well-known part). The most famous of these crimes are the murders in Villisca, Iowa, but it is apparent to anyone who will take the time to look that the Villisca murders were a part of a series of similar events. I was reading about that series of crimes and I had a thought. “I’ll bet there were others,” I thought, “that the contemporary authorities never linked to the same criminal.”
With modern computers, we can search tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of small-town newspapers, looking for reports of similar events.
And I found one.
And then I found another one, and another one, and another one. I hired my daughter as a researcher, and she started finding them. We had no idea what we were dealing with. And we never dreamed that we would actually be able to figure out who he was.
By the time he came to Villisca, The Man from the Train had been murdering randomly selected families for a decade and a half. People had been executed for his crimes; people had been lynched for his crimes; and people were rotting away in prison for his crimes.
Skeptical? Of course you’re skeptical. You’re either skeptical or you’re stupid, and you don’t look stupid. But hear me out. Have I got a story to tell you.
Table of Contents
Section I 1909 to 1912
Chapter I The Bloody Penny 7
Chapter II Logan's Turnpike 16
Chapter III The Scandalous Schultzes 22
Chapter IV Marshalltown 28
Chapter V The New Orleans Axeman 39
Chapter VI Which Is Not Really a Chapter 43
Chapter VII Martin City 44
Chapter VIII The Casaways 56
Chapter IX Oregon 66
Chapter X The Double Event 81
Chapter XI Monmouth 88
Chapter XII Ellsworth 93
Chapter XIII Paola 104
Section II Summer 1912
Chapter XIV Villisca 2 121
Chapter XV Villisca 3 129
Chapter XVI Villisca 4 144
Chapter XVII Villisca 5 166
Chapter XVIII Dynamite Pfanschmidt 182
Section III 1900 to 1906
Chapter XIX Stepping Backward 199
Chapter XX Trenton Comers 208
Chapter XXI Standing by Henry 217
Chapter XXII An Uncertain Set of Names 230
Chapter XXIII Just When You Thought This Story Couldn't Possibly Get Any Uglier 233
Chapter XXIV Hughes 250
Chapter XXV The Christmas Day Murders 255
Chapter XXVI West Memphis 265
Chapter XXVII Jacksonville 268
Chapter XXVIII Cottonwood, Alabama 271
Chapter XXIX Murder in the Cold 276
Chapter XXX The Worst One Ever 284
Chapter XXXI The Lyerly Family 291
Chapter XXXII Hiatus 309
Chapter XXXIII The Crimes of 1908 319
Chapter XXXIV Conversation with the Reader 333
Chapter XXXV Hurley 353
Chapter XXXVI Beckley and Beyond 364
Chapter XXXVII The Zoos and the Hubbells 373
Chapter XXXVIII Clementine Barnabet 381
Chapter XXXIX Harry Ryan 415
Chapter XL The First Crime 420
Chapter XLI Brookfield and Villisca 435
Chapter XLII Where the Evening Is Spread Out Against the Sky 444
Chapter XLIII Hinterkaifeck 456